A TORNADO IN NEW YORK


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Image #1Tornado in Brooklyn from knbc.com
When discussing tornados most people think of “Tornado Alley” or the central portion of the country. However, tornados do in fact occur throughout the nation. According to National Weather Service –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) the United States will have on average 800 tornados each year. Most of them will occur in “tornado alley”, but some do in fact occur in other locations.

All fifty states in the United States have been hit by a tornado. Obviously, some states are affected differently both by severity and by how many hit each state. The area that is hit the most is known as “Tornado Alley.” This area spans from North Dakota all the way to West Texas. That is about 950 kilometers wide and 1600 high (if looking at a flat map). “Tornado Alley” is not an exact area, sometimes it can vary due to changing weather patterns and interpretations. But for the most part, it is located in this general area of the United States. Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas are definitely apart of it because they are the states most affected by tornadoes. (9)

At about 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, August 8, 2007 an F2 tornado touched down in Bay Ridge in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Tornados are measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which classifies tornados on a scale of 0 to 5. The National Weather Service reported that the tornados winds reached up to 135 mph. The tornado traveled southeast into Sunset Park were it did some damage. Accompanying this was a large storm system that poured about 3 inches of rain on the city in the short span of only about one hour.

The combination of the tornado and the fierce storm resulted in only a relatively moderate amount of damage. Major Michael R. Bloomberg reported that they estimate that between 100 and 200 cars were smashed by flying trees (see image #2). The two also damaged many different structures including homes and commercial buildings. One such commercial building that incurred damage was a Nissan dealership which lost its roof. It also forced the evacuation of 20 buildings. The most widespread damage was the breaking of countless windows, and hundreds of trees throughout the city that were pulled out of the ground by the roots. Several homes and businesses also had large portions of their roofs destroyed; including a few that had been completely removed. The storm and tornado also resulted in a single death. A woman died due to a fatal car accident after her car was struck by another driver when the rain caused her car to stall-out. According to CNN’s report on August 9, five people had reported injuries (although many more were likely to have reported injury at a later time) that they incurred during the storm due to high winds and falling debris which included objects like trees and roof tiles.

Another result of the storm and tornado was the loss of power and damage to transportation.
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Image #2 Damage to trees and cars. Image from stateoftheart.popphoto.com
The New York times estimated that about 4000 customers lost power through out the city, some of whom did not get their power restored until late that evening. The storm shut down almost all of the subway lines throughout the day with only three being restored by that evening and many more that were not fixed until even later. The subway lines are one of the primary methods of transportation throughout the city and countless workers had to find other means of transportation. The storm also affected railroad lines that transport people from New Jersey into the state. Governor Eliot Spitzer has ordered that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to investigate exactly what went wrong with the system so that the city might correct them.

Beyond the initial storm and accompanying tornado that touched down in Brooklyn the city also experienced an afternoon and an evening of scorching temperatures. At 5:30 p.m. LaGuardia International Airport in Queens reported a temperature of 101'. The result was a miserably hot and humid day accompanied by all the problems of flooding and wind damage. The combination of the loss of trees throughout the city, the cost to fix the railways, return of power, and the repair to damaged structures resulted in the tornado and storm costing the New York City tens of millions of dollars.

Although tornados (and their accompanying storms) can happen anywhere, as seen in the graph below, they are not a common occurrence in New York City. As seen, this tornado on August 8th would make for only the second one in the last 7 years in the New York City Metropolitan-Area. Tornados of an EF2 magnitude are an especially rare, happening about every 20 - 50 years (NOAA 2007). This is of course a very good thing for the city due to its dense population. The state of New York has a population of about 20 million (US Census Bureau 2007). This is third only to California and Texas, but its size is far smaller than both of these states, making it the densest in population. With so many people and dense cities a tornado's effect can be numerous.
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Image #3 A graph of occurrence of tornados in New York City area. Image from Weather 2000 a consulting meteorlogical firm for Energy & Commodity Trading, Insurance and Weather Derivatives Industries.


One of the major problems that this weather system caused the city was the economic and transportation issues. The storm caused delays at both of the major airports in New York, JFK in Long Island in Queens County and LaGuardia International in Flushing, Queens County, New York. According to CNN, JFK was delayed up to one and a half hours due to flooding in the facility (not on the runways themselves). A delay in flights not only means economic loss for the airports but potential losses for the people using the airlines. These delays affect people all over the country and world who are trying to get into New York. The loss of the New York Cities primary method of transportation, the extensive subway system proved to be one the major effects on the individual lives of the citizens of the large city. The city has had to spend money to discover what it is that is wrong with their system and why it has failed several times after large floods. After finding out the cause(s) the city will likely have to spend even more money to fix the problem. The loss of transportation can result in many subsequent problems for all citizens who rely so heavily on them. Also a huge hindrance to transportation was the obstruction of roads by fallen trees (image #2). This could greatly hinder any efforts to provide help if people had been injured by the tornado.

Another issue with a city being unprepared for such a weather system is that their infrastructure is truly unprepared. The rain came down so fast that day that the pumps in the city could not manage all of the excess water. The result of the pump failure was a failure of the sewer system that needed the pump water to function. Failures such as these would be common for a major city. New York City receives on average 42 inches of rain per year, and on average never more than 4 inches in an entire month (WorldClimate.com). So when the city pumps encounter about 3 inches of rain in a single hour they do not function as intended. Also overwhelmed by the storm was the energy companies who were unable to provide power to some 4000 customers. Fortunately in this case the damage was easy enough to repair within a day.

The biggest problem with having such a strong storm system hitting a city like this is that the city really is completely unprepared for what would happen. This is especially true of the citizens. A flash flood warning was issued for New York City at around 7 a.m. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area at about 7:15 a.m. Although these warnings are nice, they do not function in a place like New York the same as they do in the midwest. In "tornado alley" either or both individuals and towns will have underground safety locations. In New York due to the extreme rarity of these events a tornado cellar is not part of the landscape. Also building codes in New York City are completely different from the codes in the midwest. Again the extreme rarity of their occurrences leads to buildings not being constructed with concerns of tornados. So you can tell people that a tornado is possible, but there is little they can do or that they would know to do. The area is not prepared, and the education about the small steps that they could be taken has very likely not been provided to the majority of citizens. And with the density of the city, even the smallest tornado in the wrong stop could result in a lot of deaths.

In this case, the result of the tornado and accompanying weather system was not that bad all things considered. The costs could have been worse for individuals and for businesses. Only one major business was affected and most of the damage to homes was roof damage. The city was probably hit the hardest. They had around 150 trees that they would have to remove, dispose of, and likely replant. All the destruction of property only amounted to a few million dollars. The outcome could have been far worse for the city. Despite the unprepared nature of the citizens, the only death was a result of the strong rain and not the tornado. More people could have been seriously injured or possibly killed by the falling debris.

In 1989, an F4 tornado hit New Haven, CT resulting in 40 injuries and $250 million in damages. Then in November 1989 an F1 tornado in Orange, New York resulted in 9 deaths and 18 injuries, and it cost the city $25 million (Weather 2000). So it is not just the strength of the tornado that causes problems, but the entire storm system that causes deaths and damages. In this case the biggest hazard to the city was the incredible amount of rain. An unprepared city is not able
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Image #4 F2 tornado return period from www.nssl.noaa.gov/e
to handle torrential downpours, nor is a large city (that rarely experiences tornados) structurally prepared. And worse of all, the citizens are not fully educated on what to do to minimize possible harm.
















References:
1. Citidex. www.citidex.com/20.htm
2. CNN.com/US. http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/08/08/nyc.weather/index.html
3. National Severe Storms Laboratory. www.nssl.noaa.gov/.../ public_html/f2return.gif
4. NBC. www.knbc.com/2006/0713/9510128_240X180.jpg
5. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/08/nyregion/08cnd-weather.html?hp
6. Pop Photo.com. stateoftheart.popphoto.com
7. U.S. Census Bureau. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html
8. Weather 2000.http://www.weather2000.com/NY_Tornadoes.html[
9. Tornado Alley http://library.thinkquest.org/C001472/neen/tornadoes/alley.content.html

Written by Diana Blanco
The tornado touched down three times according to the Nationnal Weather Service, the first occurring at 6:30 am. The thunderstorm that followed the tornado distributed more than three inches of rain within an hour (1.) To fully understand the severity of the tornado, one should take a closer look at the Enhanced Fujita Scale. A level one tornado has winds from 86-109 miles per hour and which can damage barns and small farm buildings for example. A level two, has winds from 110-137 miles per hour and can damage one or two family residences. Level three tornados tornados can have winds from 138-167 miles per hour and damage single-wide mobile homes (2.) The scale continues on to describe higher levels but it is clearly seen that even though a level two may not seem too bad, once taken in the context of the Fujita scale, it is a disaster.
1) http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/08/08/nyc.weather/index.html
2) http://www.tornadochaser.net/fujita.html